Sleep is challenging — but crucial.
Autistic burnout isn’t a permanent state, however. One of the best ways for anyone to recover from burnout is rest, particularly sleep, according to Amelia Nagoski, the co-author of the best-selling 2019 book “Burnout: The Secret to Unlocking the Stress Response Cycle.” But autistic people have a harder time sleeping because of their neurological differences, according to a 2019 study.
Autistic people are more likely to sleep for shorter periods of time and experience lower-quality sleep, and they’re more likely to be night owls, the study found. Research on non-autistic adults shows that insomnia is a strong predictor of burnout, suggesting a similar link among autistic people with sleep disorders.
Ms. Nagoski, 44, addressed autistic people’s sleep woes in a recent YouTube video. “This essential thing that is fundamental to wellness is harder for autistic people,” she said. She was diagnosed with autism in 2020, and launched her channel, Autistic Burnout, to offer advice and resources to people experiencing the condition.
All the usual sleep-hygiene tips apply to autistic people, including avoiding screens near bedtime, making sure the room is sufficiently dark and cool, and taking a shower to make your temperature drop afterward, which tells your body it’s time to sleep. But autistic people have to follow this advice more diligently, and even then, she said, it’s “more effort for less result.”
Find social connection that works.
Rest isn’t the only remedy for autistic burnout. Connecting with others is a significant way to alleviate burnout for non-autistic adults, Ms. Nagoski said, and may be helpful. But many autistic people misread social cues, take statements literally and are uncomfortable with touch.
Ms. Nagoski (with her twin sister and co-author, Emily Nagoski) recommends 20-second hugs and six-second kisses for neurotypical adults because they release the hormone oxytocin, but “those never worked for me,” she said. Instead, she recommends finding community through social media, where the #actuallyautistic and #autisticburnout hashtags help people find one another on most large social media platforms.
Ms. Grant finds herself making trade-offs when it comes to friendships. When people ask to spend time with her, she often declines, in order to protect her energy. But her autism already strains her friendships. “Just saying ‘no’ isn’t that easy, especially when you’re used to saying ‘yes’ just to keep your friends,” she said.